Scripture Reference: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
The Church Is HolyDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 28, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
Sensuality, violence, and the occult are everywhere: movies, television, music, and easily accessible on today’s mobile devices. Every possible form of media is corrupting the hearts of our children. Mature believers are even crippled by it.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer reminds us that the church must be set apart and holy. So what do we need to do? We follow Paul’s advice to the church in Thessalonica: choose holiness. Purity matters.
What would you do if thieves were to come into your home and steal your children? You wake up in the morning to find that they are not there. You say, “Well that would never happen because the doors are locked and the windows are bolted. The police would be called and they would find our children.”
What if I were to tell you that even now thieves are already in your home stealing the hearts of your children? They are stealing their values and their souls and leaving you with their bodies and their allegiances lie somewhere else.
What if it were true that these thieves are not only stealing the hearts of our children but the hearts of adults and families? Parents are blinded by these thieves that have come in with the express purpose of taking over. The thieves that I am referring to are the media. The Chicago Tribune had an article entitled, “Media options swamp the nation.” It said, “The average American spends 9.6 hours a day inhaling the media watching television, using computers, listening to the radio or going to the movies, according to the Census Bureau’s statistical abstract.”
We as a nation apparently spend on average two months a year just watching T.V. Perhaps it’s not crazy given that according to a certain census, the Television and Video Almanac, we have 392 national cable channels to choose from and about 40,000 DVD titles. Brian Graden, president for MTV network says, “The more media that is consumed, the more it drives overall usage. It’s like an echo chamber effect: the more you use it, the more you use it.” It’s called addiction; that is what it is.
Today I am talking about television and all of its impurity that comes into our homes. I am speaking about the movies, with their violence and sensuality and occultism and I’m speaking about the internet, with all of its potential for good and for harm, such as pornography. At the end of this message I’m going to read a letter from someone who was caught in that trap and I’m also going to read his story of deliverance.
I’m also speaking about video games. Have you ever wondered why they are so violent? I didn’t know why they had all this violence on video games until I spoke to someone who was converted out of the occult. She said that in the occult you gain points and you gain strength in the hierarchy of demonic spirits by the shedding of innocent blood. That’s why the video games are so violent and that’s why kids kill one another in these games.
In fact, somebody told me that they were in a home and a little seven year old boy came to his mom and said, “I just killed 94 people.” She just shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s just a game.” But it is teaching principles of violence however, and it is drawing you into the violence of occultism and the power of demonic spirits.
Another pastor and I here at the church tried to help a boy who was going through a video game from one level of difficulty to another and it had all kinds of foreign gods from false religions. He had clearly received demonic spirits. These spirits wouldn’t even let him sit down. He was just a perpetual motion machine. And yet parents say, “Well it is only a game, you know.”
Yet they are addictive. I saw on T.V. recently a new game, and I can’t remember the name of it, but they talked about the fact that it is addictive. They had a section on the news about the addiction of this video game in which you connect with people from other countries or something like that. One guy said, “I took off work for two days so that I could just play the game and not have to be interrupted.” That is addiction. All of the media has the power of addiction.
I am going to introduce you to a word that we aren’t very fond of using in our churches in this century. It is the word holiness. It makes us feel uncomfortable, doesn’t it? God says, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” It is a scriptural requirement for the church and for individuals to be holy.
Today we are going to wander right into Satan’s territory and right into his toy shops. Therefore there will be some resistance to this sermon. Some of you are going to tune me out. Some of you will find it hard to stay awake. Some of you will come with so many rationalizations that you won’t even be able to hear what I am going to say.
When we speak about this we are speaking about all of us. This is not a message where I am up here preaching to all of you. Those of us who have had the good fortune of never being tempted by alcoholism or drugs can still identify with addiction. We can all identify with the power of sexual temptation because we have all been there. This is a message in which we as a family of God’s people are speaking God’s word and it is for every one of us, including those who are in leadership.
Because it is so important I would like us to bow in prayer one more time and ask that God will give us receptive spirits and hearts as we listen to his most holy word.
“Father, we pray that those who have fallen into traps of sensuality, that even as they have concluded that they can’t get out and can’t change, we pray that you will surprise them and bring them deliverance, hope and help. Lord, apart from you we can do nothing. We ask now that all who are listening will say, ‘Lord, whatever you are going to tell me to do, I will do.’” Those of you who are listening, are you willing to tell God that today? If you are, you tell him. “We pray in Jesus name, amen.”
This is a series of messages about what happens when God comes to church. When God comes to church the church is holy. That is the theme of 1 Thessalonians chapter four. Please find it because we are going to plunge right into the text and we are going to find out what it has to say to us today.
Paul was preaching to pagans and he expected these pagans to be holy. Christianity is different from all other religions of the world. All other religions are external only. Christianity changes the heart and the desires and the aptitude and gives inner strength so that it isn’t just a matter of will power, it is actually the power of God in deliverance and strength. If you’ve never trusted Christ as Savior I urge you to do that. That is the entry point to be able to find God’s power and God’s strength.
Let’s now plunge into the text. It says, “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” You say, “What is that big word?” The word sanctification is really the word holy. It is the word hagia, or holy; to be set apart. Hagiasmos is sanctification.
In fact, that is why the footnote says that we could read it, “For this is the will of God, your holiness, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” A characteristic of someone who doesn’t know God is that they can’t control their passions. It goes on to say, “That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand.”
Today we are going to answer three questions: what pleases God, why should we please God, and how should we do it? Each one of these questions is critical and very important. Thank you so much for joining me on this journey.
First of all, what pleases God? It says, “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” The Greek word is pornia, from which we get the word pornography. It really refers to a whole range of sexual impurity: prostitution, all sex outside of a marriage relationship, and all kinds of bizarre things that are happening in our society. Paul is saying that we should abstain.
Next you’ll notice positively that he is saying that you should learn to control your own body. That is probably the best translation. The word is vessel, so some people think that it has to do with a wife. It is probably correct the way it is translated here. It says to control your own body in holiness and honor.
The Bible says in Romans chapter eight, verse thirteen, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” The Puritans used to say you had to hunt down sin. You have to kill sin or sin will kill you. I’ve been reading about that text in Romans during the past weeks and someday I will preach a message on it. But for now I need to simply point out that the Bible says to glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which is God.
By the way, you should control your body with honor and holiness. If you’re giving in to somebody sexually today that really means that you think more of them and what they want to do than you do the honor of your own body and the holiness of your own body. The Bible says, “Glorify God in your body.”
Then the Apostle Paul goes on to say in verse six, “That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter.” What is that all about? You can say either brother or sister or maybe Paul means it broader than simply a brother in Christ. Maybe he is also saying that if you mistreat a brother’s wife and get her involved that you have obviously defrauded and transgressed and hurt your brother. Or maybe if you are involved with some young woman inappropriately and you have introduced her to impurity, you are actually having an effect on some brother someday who will marry her.
At any rate Paul is very, very clear here that in our relationships there are always relational issues. There are God issues, as we shall see, but there are relational issues when it comes to this matter of sexual sin. So the question is what pleases God? The answer is sexual purity. That is what pleases God.
The next question is why should we please God? Why bother with this? Why listen to this message? Why order the tape or CD? Why should you keep hanging in here at this point? Let me give you some reasons why we should please God.
First of all, you do want to please him because you love him, don’t you? Don’t you want to please somebody that you love? Isn’t that the whole motivation of love? That is what the scripture says in verse one, that you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing. But he also says to do it more and more. Pleasing God is the one fact that we cannot rationalize in all of this business.
I often think of Joseph and the story of how Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. He could have justified it rationally. He could have said, “Nobody is going to know about it and we are going to be armed with a pack of lies if we are found out.” Today you can add to that, “We can control pregnancy and we love one another.” Furthermore, one couple told me that it was much cheaper to live together. But the thing that you can’t rationalize is God. Joseph said, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? I don’t want to hurt the God I love.” That’s the one thing you can’t rationalize.
All the lies in the world and all the deceptions in the world will not erase the fact that you are hurting the God you love. You are displeasing God. That is one reason why you want to please God and it is a characteristic of somebody who has been born of the Holy Spirit. If you are here today and you are blowing God off and saying, “I don’t care what he thinks,” you have all the marks of somebody who does not know Christ as Savior. You are not part of the family. We are glad that you are here and we are glad that you are listening, but you haven’t entered into the family yet. I hope you will.
The other reason is in verse six. You’ll notice I read it briefly a moment ago. It says, “That no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things.” Ouch! God is an avenger to those who are involved in sexual immorality. God does this in two ways. First of all, he does it inherently in his moral law. There are two kinds of laws. The first law is the law of the stop sign. You can put up a stop sign up somewhere and City Hall can say, “We don’t need a stop sign there,” and they can take it down.
But there is another law which is characterized by the law of the fire. The law of the fire says that when I put my hand into the fire it will get burned. You say, “City Hall could change that. The Congress of the United States can change that.” I’m sorry, but the Congress can’t change that because that is inherent within it.
Also inherent within sexual sin are certain consequences that can never be expunged or circumvented. Society tells us that is not the truth. But Congress can’t change that and Hugh Hefner can’t change that. Think of all of the broken lives and all of the degrading experiences that I don’t need to tell you about today. There are certain consequences that can’t be overcome and in the future God will judge us.
You say, “Well not us as Christians because we are under grace and so it is safe to sin.” Did you know that under grace, and how we thank God for grace, that it is not safe to sin? The Bible says that we will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ. In the Bible it is connected to the word terror. That doesn’t mean that God is going to judge us or condemn us because it is true that there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. But when we see our lives burn up as wood, hay, and stubble and when we have nothing to offer Jesus we will understand why the Bible says we should live in such a way that we will not have shame at his coming. It is never safe to sin just because you are under grace.
Now I can imagine someone has come in here today and said, “This is just like Moody Church. Moody Church is one of these conservative churches and you go there and get this old fashioned sermon preached at you.” Maybe you are here today and you wish you would have gone to some other church where you would have heard something more pleasant. Just in case there is somebody listening who feels that way, Paul knew that you were here and he had a word for you. Isn’t that wonderful? The Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit said, “I’m talking to somebody who thinks this is just old fashioned.”
So listen, your Bible is open, isn’t it? Are we not people of this book? You’ll notice it says in verse seven, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” By the way, the calling of God is another reason. But for those of you who think this is old fashioned, here is your verse. Verse eight says, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” Don’t leave here upset with me because you are very uncomfortable. You need to just deal with God. I’m out of here. When I finish this message and I’ve given an invitation I will spend the afternoon preparing for tonight and you have to deal with God. The scripture says very clearly that this is the word from God and not the word from man.
The question you are asking then is how do you do it? You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says to abstain. That is a command. You say, “I don’t have the strength.” It is true that you don’t, but with the power of the Holy Spirit and yieldedness and the prayers of others you can change. What you need to do is to deal decisively with this. Jesus said, “If you have to pluck out your one eye so that you no longer lust, then do it.” Of course he doesn’t mean it literally because you could pluck out one eye and still lust with the other.
In effect he is saying we need to do whatever we have to do to deal with it. Don’t rationalize it any longer; just do it! It may mean canceling your subscription to cable television. It may mean chopping up your Blockbuster card. One man in the church a couple of years ago showed me in his hand a Blockbuster card all chopped to bits. He said, “This is the only way I can stay away from that place.” Take that card and practice plastic surgery on it.
You may also need a strong filter for your internet. If you are a geek and can work around it then you need to become accountable to somebody. We are talking about serious stuff here! You say, “I’ve invested so much in the direction I’m going that I can’t even begin to think that I can pull out.” With God’s help you can.
Very recently a letter was sent to me and I want to read it to you. He writes: “I’d like to share my story with you. It is a story that began in shame, fear, deceit and brokenness, but it ends in forgiveness, hope and renewal. It started a few years ago when I fell into internet pornography. I had been a Christian for many years and I knew I was hurting Christ and my witness through my sin. Even though I knew it was wrong, the thrill outweighed the guilt. Thanks to my excellent computer skills I was able to keep it a secret.”
“So for the past two years I was struggling with this issue. I would go without pornography sometimes for a week or two and then fall back into old habits. I constantly asked Christ for forgiveness and yet I would go right back. On the outside I looked like an ideal husband and father and Christian. Yet inside I was in my own personal hell. No matter how hard I tried to stop I would crumble under the pressure.”
“Even though I felt a genuine shame for my actions, the shame was easily engulfed by fear that was in my heart. I was convinced I could not come forward with my sin. I thought that maybe my wife would leave me and maybe take the kids away. So while the devil kept feeding my heart with fear, he also kept giving me a false sense of confidence that I could keep the secret and nobody would be hurt. What was initially a secret thrill turned into something I just ended up doing because I could. I tired filling my life with other activities or anything that would keep me away from the computer. But these were just temporary diversions and I kept going back to my sinful behavior.”
“A few months ago my wife came to me asking if I had looked at pornography. For all of my sneakiness on the computer I had forgotten one location that was not cleaned up and she happened to see it. When she approached me my life flashed before me and I decided to finally come clean and face my worst fears. I had always believed that looking at pornography was the real sin. But what really hurt my wife were the lies, the deceit, and the complete disregard of her feelings. There had been a few times in the recent past where she had asked me if I was viewing pornography and each time I answered her “no.” I convinced her I was above such a simple sin. But now as I finally answered every question with honesty, not only was I showing her how sinful I had been, but I was clearly telling her that she couldn’t trust me. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.”
“That night as I was telling her my darkest secrets a strong feeling filled my heart and mind. Now I was beginning to see how pornography had taken complete hold of my life and had been tearing my marriage apart. I realized I wanted to be rid of it all and I did not want it to be in my life anymore. I know that God was working in me that night and he wanted to provide me with true deliverance. To the surprise of my wife I told her that I would confess my sin to our pastor.”
“After barely sleeping that night I drove to our church the next day to meet with him. As I told him all the sordid details he quoted scripture and explained that I wasn’t the first Christian man to fall into this temptation. After much praying and tears I renounced the demon of pornography. I cannot explain it in words, but at that moment I finally felt true cleansing. I had hope, and even though I did not know what to expect at home, I felt better as a Christian than I had in years.”
“That night my wife and I continued to share; talking and crying together for hours. We saw revelations of how my struggle with pornography was a battle of spiritual warfare that caused unrest in our house. For months my wife had been plagued by a spirit of fear during times when she should have been happy. It was plain to see that my sin was not only permeating into all areas of my life, but it was also unwittingly rubbing off on her. My sorrow was so overwhelming that I broke down in tears several times. I wanted true deliverance. As a burn victim must endure the pain of having the dead skin peeled away before healing can begin and new skin can grow, the same went for me. To be truly free I had to lay it all out; no more lies.”
“Again I told her how sorry I was and she told me that she would forgive me. She could see that I was broken, humbled, humiliated and desperate for forgiveness and restoration. Once again the tears freely flowed again, but this time not in pain, but because I had fully experienced God’s redeeming love and forgiveness. The stain of pornography was washed away.”
“These past three months have been incredible. God did such a mighty work in my life that I haven’t had a single urge to view pornography. So many images that had scared my mind have been washed away. How is that possible except for the power of Christ? My wife and I are closer than we have been in many years. I could never imagine that I would have this level of intimate communication with my wife after what I had done. I look forward to my devotions each day eager to see what God will teach me. I’ve also had the opportunity to share my story with a fellow colleague; a single non-Christian man who is clearly at a crossroads in his own life. I can’t believe all that has taken place because of Jesus.”
“Looking back it is hard to believe the amount of time and energy I wasted, not only surfing pornography, but trying to keep it a secret. What a pathetic life I was living trying to act like a Christian husband and father on the outside, yet on the inside barely behaving like a man. How I wish that I had made my own decision to come forward with my sin. I regret that my fear overpowered my desire to be free. I have been scarred by my sin, but the scars are now a reminder that I am winning a battle, that I do not have to be a slave to the flesh.”
“There is a world of difference between being a male and being a man. I am a man once again, taking control of my thoughts and my actions for the glory of Christ and for the glory of my family. By his grace I will no longer succumb to the easy desires of the flesh, for I was bought by Christ’s precious blood. Christ’s death has given me life once again and I will not waste my life any longer.” What a letter.
Where do you go from here? In 1974 my wife and I and another couple in northern Wisconsin were on our way to a restaurant. They thought they knew where the restaurant was, but they were new to the area. It was dark and that night it was to get below zero degrees. We began to drive, and after five or six miles they realized that they were on the wrong road. The big Buick was going into the snow and no one had traveled the road in days. It was clear that we were going nowhere and that we were going to get stuck.
The question was what do we do? Nobody would know to look for us. There were no cell phones in those days. Well, we figured out a way that we could turn around when we came to a side road. We jacked up the back of the car with branches so that we could go a few feet. We kept doing it over and over again until eventually we turned around.
That night I learned that when you are on the wrong trail you loose time that can never be regained. We lost time that night. In fact, my wife and I have never yet been to that restaurant. We also learned that the ruts that we leave can mislead others. We don’t know for sure, but someone else could have taken the trail because they thought, “A car has been here so this must go somewhere.” David was able to get back to God when he committed adultery in the Old Testament but his kids did not. Your ruts may mislead others. And, we also learned that night that the mistake can’t be corrected by going on adjacent roads.
The bottom line is this: there never was a convenient time to turn around. If you’re saying to yourself, “I want to live differently but this is not the time to turn around,” there never is a convenient time to turn around. Today is the best time to turn around. Let me say that Jesus is adequate for your sin, did you know that? His forgiveness, his cleansing and the power of the Spirit are yours. He had you in mind when he died. Your sin is not bigger than his grace and his forgiveness.
Why doesn’t he just deliver us when we try to do it privately? The answer is that God wants the humility of brokenness. He uses brothers and sisters and wives and husbands in the process of healing us and restoring us. You can get into the ditch alone but you need help to get out. So the bottom line from God’s holy word is, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” When God comes the church is holy.
Let us pray. “Father we ask today in the name of Jesus, would you do a work in the lives of all of us who have listened to this message? You know the power of shame is so great that we will do anything to avoid it. We will continue on the wrong road even if it is going nowhere. Help in this moment, that those who have listened to this message by your grace might shame the shame. It says that Jesus did that on the cross in the book of Hebrews. We ask today that your Holy Spirit would do in our lives what needs to be done.”
Now before I close this prayer, would you pray and tell the Lord Jesus, would you respond to him in light of what God has shown you? “Father, we pray that you would help us. We think of the struggle that is taking place in the lives of many today. Oh God, the need is so great. We ask that you will come by your Spirit. Would you come to church and help us? We pray in Jesus name, amen.”